It is no secret that teens today and those of the past have always liked to listen to their music loud. But with the technology evolving, battery life extending, and ear buds fitting their ears sealing off the ear canal, what we thought was just a stereotype of our youth may be more of a problem than we ever thought. The statistics show an increase in hearing loss in teens due to these factors and many others, providing that more education and more hearing protection is needed in order to reduce those affected by serious hearing loss consequences from things that may have been avoided. If simply turning down the volume is the key to fixing the problem, how could it be so broad and continuous even today? Why are so many of our teens finding themselves with hearing loss down the road just because they listened to their music a little louder than other age groups?
The concerns today are born from experts and scientific studies linking hearing loss and earbuds with loud music. Some teens admit to sleeping with their earbuds in, others listen to it while doing homework, playing sports, driving or even while in school. The long hours and high volume are a dangerous combination for such a common pastime. Noise through the earbuds is not dangerous just because of the volume, but due to the excessive lengths of time that teens are listening to their music. The longer the length of time, the more damage. The higher the volume, the more damage. What is even more concerned to adults, doctors, parents and audiologists is that noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is irreversible, causing permanent damage to their hearing. Kids today are losing their hearing at a much faster pace and the effects are truly life-changing. If you can hear the music from their headphones, it is probably too loud and they may need a reminder to turn down the volume or disconnect for a while.
Instincts of parents and adults may have been right about the topic all along, but medical science and research may indeed be catching up and provicing the facts. According to researchers, more than 12% of kids between the ages of 6 and 19 suffer from noise-induced hearing loss, or the equivalent of about 5.2 million children. Although earbuds may not be the only aspect of NIHL to blame, the rising levels of environmentalises are also to blame. The progress is said to be gradual but is starting earlier than in the past. The problem is more common with teens because they tend to be more likely to blast the volume of their music than their adult counterparts. They are also more likely to forego over-the-ear headphones and choose earbuds which pump music directly into the ear canal, causing more damage.
So what exactly is noise-induced hearing loss? Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when we are exposed to loud noises harmful to the sensitive structures within our inner ear. These sensitive structures are called hair cells which are actually sensory cells that convert energy into electrical signals which travel to our brains. Unfortunately, once they are damaged, they can not grow back so leading to permanent hearing loss. NIHL can be caused by multiple or long-term exposure to noise or a one-time exposure equal to an intense “impulse” sound like a blast or explosion. Furthermore, the damage happens to those microscopic hair cells located within the cochlea. Different groups of these hair cells are important in creating the different frequencies of sound. Although a normal human ear can hear these within the range of frequencies of 20Hz to 20,000Hz, the high frequency area of the cochlea is often damaged by loud noises and when enough of those cells and stereocilia are broken, hearing loss is the result.
Sound is measured in something called decibels, and there is a scale which measures the increase of these units. On the scale, each increase of 10 means that the sound is 10 times more intense. It actually will sound about twice as loud to your ears. Here are some common noises and their decibel levels:
Refrigerator – 45 decibels
City traffic close-by – 85 decibels
Normal conversation – 40 to 60 decibels
Rock concert – 110 to 130 decibels
Headphones – about 110 decibels
Sources of harmful noises include things like loud motorcycles, fireworks, firearms, or listening to a concert right in front of the speakers which can range from 120-150 decibels. Experts warn that long-term exposure to noises at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss despite the length of exposure and the exact level of decibel will vary the likelihood of the hearing loss. Keeping a distance away from the source can also help avoid noise-induced hearing loss. Experts agree that a great rule to practice is to avoid noises or sounds that are too loud, too long, or too close. Brian Fligor, ScD at the Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts states that people exposed to 85 decibels for 8 hours tend to develop hearing loss more no matter the type of MP3 player or headphones. At those levels, 15 minutes a day is often enough to produce some kind of damage – a fraction of the time our teens are listening to personal music players these days!
The increase in popularity of iPods and earbuds is certainly one of the reasons for the noticeable increase in hearing loss among our youth. With an MP3 player or iPod, they have access to thousands of songs and can play for hours without recharging, plus users tend to listen continuously for hours at a time. With these devices, they do not even have to stop to change a CD or a tape. In just over two years, Apple has sold over 100 million iPads which also give access to plenty of songs and users plug headphones directly into these devices. Similarly, millions of iPhones on the market also allow users access to their music directly on their phone, making it an even more appealing electronic device to provide access to both music and texting.
Earbuds are also to be blamed because the evolution from outside-the-ear headphones to today's earbuds lead to about one in five teens having some type of hearing loss which is about 30% higher than it was in the 1980s and 1990s. The main reason is because earbuds are inserted directly into the ear, creating almost a seal and focused sound energy right into the ear canal. Amplification systems like earbuds come in all shapes and sizes these days, providing more “comfortable” headphones which allow for longer exposure. Just about everywhere you go you can witness some young person walking around listening to their headphones. The convenience of modern technology is a leading cause of damaging the future of their hearing while tuning out the world around them.
There are signs and symptoms which both parents and teens should be aware of. Experts warn that common signs of hearing loss from noise or loud music from earbuds include trouble hearing over background noise, asking other to repeat themselves, misunderstanding what others are saying, responding incorrectly to someone else's questions, others that is the television or music volume is too loud or louder than normal, and a ringing sensation constant in the ears. One medical expert warns that even young children can hear an entire conversation, but due to hearing impairments may have difficulty distinguishing certain words from peers or even in the classroom. Although modern technology can improve the hearing loss symptoms, this is still something that can be preverted and should be treated with proactively rather than reactively. The effects of noise-induced hearing loss due to music have been underestimated for far too long. As kids age, their exposure increases just like their damaged hearing. By late adolescence, hearing damage is common in millions with the likely source being music. Something they once enjoyed so much could have devastating effects on their future. This combined with age-related hearing loss can cause a multitude of problems down the road. Earbuds and music are very common in our culture, but because there are no truly externally-visible physical changes that occur with hearing loss, many teens feel invinceable to the effects.
So where do we go from here? For starters, encourage the young people in your life to follow the 60-60 rule which states that they should keep the volume below 60 (or 6 on the volume scale) and limit the time they listen to the music to about 60 minutes, then giving a 60-minute rest. The increase in hearing loss among teens is causing the first of many important steps at the state and federal levels. US lawmakers have begun to step in by requesting that the National Institutes of Health to continue research on the dangerous effects of earbud headphones. Their response concluded that any type of headphone has the potential to cause noise-induced hearing loss if “improperly used in terms of absolute level of the sounds, the length of exposure time to sound, and the fit of the earphone or headphone.” While more research is needed, experts still agree that earbuds cause more damage due to their snug fit. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently joined the crusade agreeing that prolonged exposure to earbuds can cause hearing loss. As part of his public health crusade, he announced the launching of a $ 250,000 social media campaign which will caution and educate our young people to be aware of the dangers of loud music listened to on their personal music devices, particularly when they utilize earbuds. Noise-induced hearing loss is a highly preventable condition and can be avoided by simply turning down the music, shortening exposure and being aware of the effects of earbuds. There are other campaigns also aimed at increasing public awareness among teenagers and young adolescents regarding the dangers and probability of hearing loss from music. This preventable condition popularizing today is creating a dim forecast for the future tomorrow.